ENTERPRISE: What Women Want, Or Kitsch Rewarded

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Harlequin books were not always so tame or profitable. Founded 25 years ago by the late Richard H.G. Bonnycastle, a onetime fur trader for the Hudson's Bay Co., the firm originally churned out cheap reprints of mystery and adventure books—and porn. In 1954 Harlequin's chief editor died, and Bonnycastle asked his wife to take over the job, which she held until 1967. A woman of more delicate tastes, Mrs. Bonnycastle set the firm on a new course, relying heavily on a London publishing house (now a subsidiary of Harlequin) which has exclusively female, mostly English writers.

With most of those women now middle-aged or better, there is some understandable concern about their prolific creativity at Harlequin. When it appears that they are beginning to lose some of their romantic sparkle, a sort of "monkey-gland" treatment is prescribed to get creative and other juices flowing again. Some authors may find themselves in a London hotel for an elegant lunch with a darkly handsome Latin. Apparently the treatment works. "Keep those good clean books coming," reads one fan letter typical of the many thousands that the company receives.

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